Inland Empire

Inland Empire differs from Lynch’s previous films Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Drive (2001) in that it does not divide – albeit confusingly and possibly only in retrospect – into sections of fantasy and reality. Those movies marketed themselves on there being a solution embedded within their nightmarish Möbius strip narratives. The structure of Inland Empire is more akin to that of the metaphorical web from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad to which Lynch himself referred, one supporting a network of hyperlinks to the repeating themes of Lynch’s career, the process of making films and the city of Los Angeles, “Inland Empire” being a named suburb of the City that conquered the world by commoditizing its dreams. From Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet (1986) to Laura Palmer in the Television series Twin Peaks (1990-current) and its feature film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), the key to the lurid and surreal world of David Lynch has always been sexual abuse. Lynch shot Inland Empire without a script, handing each actor new dialogue each day on set. “I write the thing scene by scene and I don’t have much of a clue where it will end,” he said in a 2005 interview. “It’s a risk, but I have this feeling that because all things are unified, this idea over here in that room will somehow relate to that idea over there in the pink room.” Lead actors Laura Dern and Justin Theroux said they had no idea what the film was about while they were shooting it: a sentiment echoed by many viewers who have seen it since. Monologues delivered by Dern’s character towards the end of the movie strip away some of the artifice of filmmaking to disclose the sex-work that Lynch seems to feel underpins the Hollywood dream and the damage done to those sufficiently mesmerized to enter the dangerous alleys and backrooms behind its marketplace.

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Inland Empire


Black Dog (epilogue)

0. Absolute Zero.

  1. Black Dog.
  2. Suicide Tuesday.
  3. Bright Colours.
  4. Emotional Terrorism.
  5. Attack the Zone Like a Radiant Suicide.
  6. She Leaps at Humans.
  7. Anonymous Partial Object.
  8. Circumscribe the Zone of the Nameable.
  9. Garden Gone Wild.


Black Mass

Abstract Peregrinations of the Emeritus Professor X

Given the mass of evidence, there is no plausible hypothesis but reality.
Given the mass of evidence to the contrary, there is no solution but illusion.

Jean Baudrillard, Le crime parfait (1995).

  • X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes (1963) directed by Roger Corman and written by Ray Russell and Robert Dillon, American International Pictures.
  • Music is What is the Light? from the album The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips on Warner Bros (1999).

Unnatural Acts

Includes text from “Enjoy!” by Terry Eagleton (a review of The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters by Slavoj Žižek; The Abyss of Freedom / Ages of the World by Slavoj Žižek / F.W.J. von Schelling; The Plague of Fantasies by Slavoj Žižek) in the London Review of Books, 27 November 1997; and images from The Making of King Kong by Orville Goldner and George E. Turner, Ballantine Books, 1976; Rosemary’s Baby by Roman Polanski, Paramount Pictures, 1968, based on the novel of the same name by Ira Levin; The Thing by John Carpenter and Bill Lancaster, Universal Pictures, 1982; and Whitechapel Gallery monograph, 2011 (featuring XXXV, 2007) by John Stezaker; music is I Don’t Know If This Is A Matter For Wardrobe Or Hairdressing from We Bake Our Bread Beneath Her Holy Fire by Thumpermonkey, 2010.

A Satyr against Reason and Mankind

By John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

Were I (who to my cost already am
One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man)
A spirit free to choose, for my own share
What case of flesh and blood I pleased to wear,
I’d be a dog, a monkey, or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal,
Who is so proud of being rational.

The senses are too gross, and he’ll contrive
A sixth, to contradict the other five,
And before certain instinct, will prefer
Reason, which fifty times for one does err;
Reason, an ignis fatuus of the mind,
Which, leaving light of nature, sense, behind,
Pathless and dangerous wand’ring ways it takes
Through error’s fenny bogs and thorny brakes;
Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain
Mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain;
Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down
Into doubt’s boundless sea where, like to drown,
Books bear him up awhile, and make him try
To swim with bladders of philosophy;
In hopes still to o’ertake th’ escaping light;
The vapour dances in his dazzling sight
Till, spent, it leaves him to eternal night.
Then old age and experience, hand in hand,
Lead him to death, and make him understand,
After a search so painful and so long,
That all his life he has been in the wrong.
Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
Who was so proud, so witty, and so wise.

Pride drew him in, as cheats their bubbles catch,
And made him venture to be made a wretch.
His wisdom did his happiness destroy,
Aiming to know that world he should enjoy.
And wit was his vain, frivolous pretense
Of pleasing others at his own expense.
For wits are treated just like common whores:
First they’re enjoyed, and then kicked out of doors.
The pleasure past, a threatening doubt remains
That frights th’ enjoyer with succeeding pains.
Women and men of wit are dangerous tools,
And ever fatal to admiring fools:
Pleasure allures, and when the fops escape,
‘Tis not that they’re beloved, but fortunate,
And therefore what they fear, at heart they hate.

But now, methinks, some formal band 9 and beard
Takes me to task. Come on, sir; I’m prepared.

“Then, by your favour, anything that’s writ
Against this gibing, jingling knack called wit
Likes me abundantly; but you take care
Upon this point, not to be too severe.
Perhaps my muse were fitter for this part,
For I profess I can be very smart
On wit, which I abhor with all my heart.
I long to lash it in some sharp essay,
But your grand indiscretion bids me stay
And turns my tide of ink another way.

“What rage ferments in your degenerate mind
To make you rail at reason and mankind?
Blest, glorious man! to whom alone kind heaven
An everlasting soul has freely given,
Whom his great Maker took such care to make
That from himself he did the image take
And this fair frame in shining reason dressed
To dignify his nature above beast;
Reason, by whose aspiring influence
We take a flight beyond material sense,
Dive into mysteries, then soaring pierce
The flaming limits of the universe,
Search heaven and hell, Find out what’s acted there,
And give the world true grounds of hope and fear.”

Hold, mighty man, I cry, all this we know
From the pathetic pen of Ingelo;
From Patrick’s Pilgrim, Sibbes’ soliloquies,
And ’tis this very reason I despise:
This supernatural gift, that makes a mite
Think he’s an image of the infinite,
Comparing his short life, void of all rest,
To the eternal and the ever blest;
This busy, puzzling stirrer-up of doubt
That frames deep mysteries, then finds ’em out,
Filling with frantic crowds of thinking fools
Those reverend bedlams, colleges and schools;
Borne on whose wings, each heavy sot can pierce
The limits of the boundless universe;
So charming ointments make an old witch fly
And bear a crippled carcass through the sky.
‘Tis this exalted power, whose business lies
In nonsense and impossibilities,
This made a whimsical philosopher
Before the spacious world, his tub prefer,
And we have modern cloistered coxcombs who
Retire to think ’cause they have nought to do.

But thoughts are given for action’s government;
Where action ceases, thought’s impertinent:
Our sphere of action is life’s happiness,
And he that thinks beyond, thinks like an ass.
Thus, whilst against false reasoning I inveigh,
I own right reason, which I would obey:
That reason which distinguishes by sense
And gives us rules of good and ill from thence,
That bounds desires, with a reforming will
To keep ’em more in vigour, not to kill.
Your reason hinders, mine helps to enjoy,
Renewing appetites yours would destroy.
My reason is my friend, yours is a cheat;
Hunger calls out, my reason bids me eat;
Perversely, yours your appetite does mock:
This asks for food, that answers, “What’s o’clock?”
This plain distinction, sir, your doubt secures:
‘Tis not true reason I despise, but yours.

Thus I think reason righted, but for man,
I’ll ne’er recant; defend him if you can.
For all his pride and his philosophy,
‘Tis evident beasts are, in their own degree,
As wise at least, and better far than he.
Those creatures are the wisest who attain,
By surest means, the ends at which they aim.
If therefore Jowler finds and kills the hares
Better than Meres 15 supplies committee chairs,
Though one’s a statesman, th’ other but a hound,
Jowler, in justice, would be wiser found.

You see how far man’s wisdom here extends;
Look next if human nature makes amends:
Whose principles most generous are, and just,
And to whose morals you would sooner trust.
Be judge yourself, I’ll bring it to the test:
Which is the basest creature, man or beast?
Birds feed on birds, beasts on each other prey,
But savage man alone does man betray.
Pressed by necessity, they kill for food;
Man undoes man to do himself no good.
With teeth and claws by nature armed, they hunt
Nature’s allowance, to supply their want.
But man, with smiles, embraces, friendship, praise,
Inhumanly his fellow’s life betrays;
With voluntary pains works his distress,
Not through necessity, but wantonness.

For hunger or for love they fight and tear,
Whilst wretched man is still in arms for fear.
For fear he arms, and is of arms afraid,
From fear, to fear successively betrayed;
Base fear, the source whence his best passions came:
His boasted honor, and his dear-bought fame;
The lust of power, to which he’s such a slave,
And for the which alone he dares be brave;
To which his various projects are designed;
Which makes him generous, affable, and kind;
For which he takes such pains to be thought wise,
And screws his actions in a forced disguise,
Leading a tedious life in misery
Under laborious, mean hypocrisy.
Look to the bottom of his vast design,
Wherein man’s wisdom, power, and glory join:
The good he acts, the ill he does endure,
‘Tis all from fear, to make himself secure.
Merely for safety, after fame we thirst,
For all men would be cowards if they durst.

And honesty’s against all common sense:
Men must be knaves, ’tis in their own defence.
Mankind’s dishonest; if you think it fair
Among known cheats to play upon the square,
You’ll be undone.
Nor can weak truth your reputation save:
The knaves will all agree to call you knave.
Wronged shall he live, insulted o’er, oppressed,
Who dares be less a villain than the rest.

Thus sir, you see what human nature craves:
Most men are cowards, all men should be knaves.
The difference lies, as far as I can see,
Not in the thing itself, but the degree,
And all the subject matter of debate
Is only: Who’s a knave of the first rate?

All this with indignation have I hurled
At the pretending part of the proud world,
Who, swollen with selfish vanity, devise
False freedoms, holy cheats, and formal lies
Over their fellow slaves to tyrannize.

But if in Court so just a man there be
(In Court, a just man, yet unknown to me)
Who does his needful flattery direct,
Not to oppress and ruin, but protect
(Since flattery, which way soever laid,
Is still a tax on that unhappy trade);
If so upright a statesman you can find,
Whose passions bend to his unbiased mind,
Who does his arts and policies apply
To raise his country, not his family,
Nor, whilst his pride owned avarice withstands,
Receives close bribes through friends’ corrupted hands –

Is there a churchman who on God relies;
Whose life, his faith and doctrine justifies?
Not one blown up with vain prelatic pride,
Who, for reproof of sins, does man deride;
Whose envious heart makes preaching a pretense,
With his obstreperous, saucy eloquence,
To chide at kings, and rail at men of sense;
None of that sensual tribe whose talents lie
In avarice, pride, sloth, and gluttony;
Who hunt good livings, but abhor good lives;
Whose lust exalted to that height arrives
They act adultery with their own wives,
And ere a score of years completed be,
Can from the lofty pulpit proudly see
Half a large parish their own progeny;
Nor doting bishop, who would be adored
For domineering at the council board,
A greater fop in business at fourscore,
Fonder of serious toys, affected more,
Than the gay, glittering fool at twenty proves
With all his noise, his tawdry clothes, and loves;

But a meek, humble man, of honest sense,
Who preaching peace, does practice continence;
Whose pious life’s a proof he does believe
Mysterious truths, which no man can conceive.
If upon earth there dwell such God-like men,
I’ll here recant my paradox to them,
Adore those shrines of virtue, homage pay,
And, with the rabble world, their laws obey.

If such there be, yet grant me this at least:
Man differs more from man, than man from beast.


Babylon A.D.

Director Kassovitz blamed studio interference for the mess. Two cuts of the film – one by StudioCanal for the European market, and one by Twentieth Century Fox for an American audience – support his claim, but while the French cut further stresses the Christian-Futurist theme of Dantec’s novel neither version is cogent. The idea that a society without faith or family structure cannot cohere is a strong one in France; psychoanalyst and cultural commentator Jacques Lacan (raised a Catholic) made the point with uncharacteristic clarity in The Triumph of Religion, (1974; trans 2013) insisting that only the “true faith” of Roman Catholicism was capable of erecting meaning sufficient to obscure the unbearable dimensions of “real” brought to us by the discoveries of science. Jesus is reputed to have fathered two children by Mary Magdalene – one boy, one girl, just like Toorop and Aurora – by masonic lodges in France, a rumour exhumed at length in the popular bestseller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982) and later reheated by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code (2003). Dantec himself cited the influence of philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who with Felix Guattari compared the patriarchal set-up of the Catholic confessional to that of psychiatrist and patient in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972).

– See more at:

Six Great Films (about the Patriarchy by the Patriarchy)

  • 1. The Dark Knight Rises
    One of the most unsettling films I’ve ever seen. My partner loved it. “I like his car,” she says. “But… it’s about the supremacy of fascism,” I splutter. “Yeah,” she smiles, “I like his torso too.” That old Sylvia Plath line from ‘Daddy’ comes to mind: every woman loves a fascist. Scary but instructive.
  • 2. Destry Rides Again
    Ooo, it’s Jimmy Stewart in a tight-fitting cowboy suit. But hang on, he won’t use his gun. What does his gun symbolise? Yup. Meanwhile, Marlene Dietrich’s singing: “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have”. I think we know, don’t you? It’s gayer than Top Gun.
  • 3. Get Carter
    Michael Caine’s niece is raped on film for the purposes of pornography. (Try not to cry.) His response is to fight the patriarchy with the tools of the patriarchy: violence, intimidation and murder. Then he dies. John Osborne mooches about in an unconvincing neck-beard. One of the bleakest and most truthful films ever made.
  • 4. Solaris
    Planetary scientist Kris Kelvin is haunted by his suicidal girlfriend. What does she represent? Guilt, an imaginary family, the epistemology of science itself; he’s separated subjects from objects, thoughts from feelings, in pursuit of data. Men are like that. He gets found out.
  • 5. Blue Velvet
    Masterpiece: I dare you to disagree. If you have to rape your mother to get it up, we’re all in trouble. And yet… all those robins together at the end: and those firemen at the beginning. Is that the patriarchy getting it together? It’s clear we’ll need a woman’s help to achieve that.
  • 6. Mad Max: Fury Road
    A film that wears its symbolism on Charlize Theron’s sleeve: bullet farms, corrupt bloodlines, threatening baroque skies. The leads underplay their roles to bring the background into the foreground: the old family structures have broken down and the big guy makes no sense anymore. Slow down: this is home.

Infernal Desire Machines: Playbook


Advice from last month’s Playstorm – thanks Ed, David & Anita – has been applied. I shall canvass fresh freaks at a future Indiemeet; a game in which you choose your own madness may prove an acquired taste. All feedback gratefully ignored.


Infernal Desire Machines Playbook 2

Infernal Desire Machines: The Real


What is desire? Something in the unconscious that leads you toward (or away from) a coded version of your family? According to Jacques Lacan, its structure determines your sexuality; or, as Madan Sarup puts it: “Need is satisfiable, desire is insatiable.” Hence fantasy, fetish, image. It’s just a game we play.

The Real invites you to decide what’s been driving your character all this time – and what, if anything, you intend to do about it.

Choose one of two special moves:-

Inrupt allows you to retell one of the scenes already covered from the point of view of your character; you can import systems from other games to facilitate this – initiative systems, wizardry, wild romance, whatever – or just choose a genre or narrative style. There’s one proviso: stick to your own character. If other players want to join you in this, great – but allow them hegemony over their own characters.

Rewrite lets you in on the Epilogue – the part of the game that follows The Real. You get final cut. If more than one player wants a rewrite, they each draw from the larger part of the Tarot deck to decide who rewrites when. Try to identify an over-arching theme, or at least include everyone. We’re in your hands: enjoy it.

In this, the introductory version of Infernal Desire Machines, The Symbolic, The Imaginary and The Real have been segmented into beginning / middle / end. This is to facilitate picking up the principles of the game.

In fact, there will be a lot of flipping around between these states of play. One player will be challenging another symbolically and her opponent will want to respond imaginatively by introducing a narrative element. Or two players will be merrily escalating one another’s imaginary scenes only to find they need to ‘get real’ for a moment in order to discuss the implications for the story.

For the most part, this will happen informally; how much you notice the machinery of the game while playing is a matter of play-style and personal preference. It’s one of the reasons the game has three parts: ‘play through’ and find what suits you.

Where it gets interesting is when different play-styles cross-over or ‘clash’ during play: one person will want to stay ‘in the flow’ of a character arc between symbolic and imaginary while another will want to step back to the threshold between imaginary and real in order to shape the story. Players can fall back on a simple paper-scissors-stone mechanic if they want a quick resolution to any such discussion:-

Imaginary trumps Symbolic trumps Real trumps Imaginary

If you’re running a version of the game led by one person (GMed), call this as needed; you might have one eye on the clock, or think a certain scene has gone on long enough. In an ‘all for one, one for all’ version of the game (GMless), any player can call this when they’ve had enough ‘blah’. Reach an agreement or move on. If the cut-cut-cutting gathers pace, it’s an indication you need to frame a new scene in a new context.


The Symbolic
Challenge / Phantasm
Conduct numerical challenges
Threshold: Imply deeper meanings

Is superseded by:-

The Imaginary
Augment / Evoke
Frame scenes from the pictures on the cards.
Threshold: Take the story in a new direction

Is superseded by:-

The Real
Inrupt / Rewrite
Import systems or flavour from other games
Threshold: Negotiate outcomes with other players

Is superseded by:-


You’ll have ‘felt’ something during the game. Some foreshadowed possibility, perhaps, or an intimation that the character you’re playing might do something to surprise you or someone else. The epilogue is your chance to express that – or to put it into some sort of context. Maybe – gasp! – you were a bit bored. The story might have gone off at a tangent that didn’t interest you much. This is your chance to fix that – or at least to underline a point you wanted to make.

An idea is a brick – build with it or hurl it through a window.

I was the only man alive who knew time had begun again.

Angela Carter

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman



The Tarot deck is divided into two piles: one containing major arcana, the other containing the suits and minor arcana. Challenges proceed according to the resolution mechanic of Psychosis: Ship of Fools by Charles Ryan and John Fletcher. These are covered in The Symbolic section of the game. Cards are dispensed during play according to a) the preference of a GM, b) the agency of the Ambassador, or c) the general approbation of other players. Anyone who draws an Ace during play may choose to swap it for a draw from the major arcana.

Players narrate scenes using the imagery of the Tarot deck, rules for which are covered in The Imaginary section of the game first playtested at the London Indie RPG Meetup Group.

Players apportion input into the outcome of the game through rules covered here, in The Real.



A kind woman once talked me off a bridge. Another time, I saw language in the sky. The green field at Glastonbury witnessed me trouser-less one morning; turns out it wasn’t just the acid.

Psychosis tends to be a diagnosis of exclusion: it’s when there’s no evident cause that you need to be worried. We all get it and we all have a vested interest in pretending it’s not happening.

We laugh madness off or use it to scare one another – me included, I’m afraid. If dramatizations of mental illness make you uncomfortable, look away now.

Links between madness and creativity are fairly well documented (Plato, Freud, Sheldon Cooper), as indeed are those between play and art (D.W. Winnicott). If this sounds a bit poncey, it probably is. Put simply, I like games – RPGs most of all.

The idea was to port some of the Tarot-resolution rules from Psychosis: Ship of Fools (Charles Ryan & John Fletcher, 1993) into an adaptation of one of my favourite novels – The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (Angela Carter, 1972).

Players in Psychosis try to discover the truth behind their hallucinations by interacting with them; in Angela Carter’s novel, humanity is hallucinating because Dr Hoffman has eroded the divisions between time and space, symbols and objects, dreams and reality.

I chose to complicate matters by including some of the ‘move’ structure from another game I’m struggling to write:-

What does this mean?

Read meanings from the cards
on the table.

(Conduct numerical challenges.)

Why is it happening?

Frame scenes from the pictures on the cards.

(Take the story in a new direction.)

How do we fix this?

Negotiate outcomes with the players around you.*

(Import systems from other games.)

* Imaginary trumps Symbolic trumps Real trumps Imaginary.

These do not (quite) correspond to the map of human consciousness pioneered by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. Now, I did try reading some Jacques Lacan: the words kept getting in the way. I kind of like him for this – because, you see, language does not describe reality. Nope, not even the beautiful symmetries of mathematics. Not yet, anyway.

Nobody wants to hear this waffle, so you have to encode it into the systems of the game. I found that the designers of Psychosis – bless you, Charles Ryan, bless you, John Fletcher – had in large part already done this by tying in-game hallucinations to the Tarot deck. Angela Carter, meanwhile, had unpicked some of the connections between unconscious desire and the structures of mythology.

I started by calling the game ‘Heresiarch’ but I’m not sure I want to play a game called Heresiarch. So I called it Infernal Desire Machines. The infernal desire machines in Carter’s novel are based in part on the art of Hans Bellmer.

By gracious design of the London Indie RPG Meetup Group I was able to playtest a fragmentary version of the game. They do this sort of thing out of the kindness of their hearts; either that or as part of some nefarious design to replace the heads of state with the heads of Sesame Street characters. I have visions of Boris Johnson as a power-gaming Big Bird. Try not to hold this against me.


Three’s a Crowd

Ed played Sarah, a violent woman tormented by the loss of her lover. Sarah’s conscious choice was about creating permanence: an ever-changing environment had swallowed her one true love and she needed to compensate for this. The other players around the table chose guilt as her unconscious desire; given that Dr Hoffman’s seismic generators had given her the means to create her own reality, was she really to blame for her own isolation?

Ed, a comedian and born improviser, really got stuck into Sarah. He chose ‘Judgement’ as his major arcana & placed high-scoring Wands into his trace – ie face-up in front of him. These cards expressed how he came across to other people and could be applied throughout the game.

David played Leon, a wonderful counterbalance to Sarah. He’d handled similar issues in a different fashion: everyone had vanished from his world, his wife and kids, his workmates, the people on the street – no-one but he remained. He’d achieved consistency at the expense of company. We chose social anxiety as his unconscious desire. Something in him had shut down when the world got too complicated.

David conveyed Leon’s character through card-play; ‘Death’ was on the table, as was the King of Wands, but the rest of his cards remained close to his chest – just like his feelings. There were a lot of Wands in the air by this point, a lot of implied violence. The encounter between Sarah and Leon proved to be the game’s defining moment.

Anita played Abigail, choosing ‘The Star’ as her major arcana. Anita seemed to understand from the off – way better than I did – that this was a game about characters coming to terms with unexpressed feelings. Abigail had an Eve complex, manifesting as a pregnant woman with a star in her belly. We chatted about this as players and decided we didn’t want abortion to feature as a theme in the story.

Anita used ‘The Star’ to frame a beautiful scene in which wires connected lights in the sky to a radio in the pub where Sarah and Leon were meeting for the first time. This, of course, contravened the basis of the paradigms they had erected to protect themselves from the cracks in the time and space equation. Abigail was interested in resolving more than her own issues.


The Ambassador of Nowhere

I’d been not-quite-playing the ambassador of the Doctor all this time, using ‘The Hierophant’ to represent the ceremony of his position, and the King of Pentacles (in his trace) to reflect his intellectual justification of the Doctor’s position:-

First theory of Phenomenal Dynamics:
The universe has no fixed substratum of fixed substances and its only reality lies in its phenomena.

Second theory of Phenomenal Dynamics:
Only change is invariable.

Third theory of Phenomenal Dynamics:
The difference between a symbol and an object is quantitative, not qualitative.

He’d only been there as an obstacle for the characters to rub up against if needed, and the players had more than enough going on between them. His presence was felt only as one of the characters supported one of the statements above, whereupon they received another card (up to a maximum of five).

I’m afraid I can’t quite remember the order in which everything occurred… which seems appropriate somehow. Cards were burned in challenges and in the framing or augmenting of scenes, but we ended up with an interchangeable pool of cards in the centre of the table to reflect the interrelationship between the characters:-

Ten of Wands = Abigail arriving with difficult news about the instability of the world.
Knight of Wands = absence, flight, emigration; Sarah threatening Leon with a lampstand and barring the door on Abigail’s entrance.
King of Wands = Leon’s missing wife and kids, but also the sense of his stability and protection.
Page of Cups = painful memories taking shape; an image of Sarah’s lost love walking into Leon.
Queen of Cups = the gift of a vision; Abigail’s activity feeding her dream.
Three of Swords = the three characters divided by a similar sense of loss; which in turn was resolved by:-
Three of Cups = the three characters coming together in joy and merriment; Leon handing Abigail a pint.
The Lovers = yeah, I know it’s kinda hokey but Sarah and Leon got together at the end by allowing Abigail to help them. The card just sprung from the deck at the opportune moment.

After the Fall

What is nostalgia for a lost love if not a form of emotional cowardice? We move on by moving through. Thanks to Ed, David and Anita for showing me this.

Feedback after the session indicated that the players had fun interacting with the unreliability of their own perceptions, but that the game’s systems lacked focus.

Ed was dead right about the larger part of my cobbled-together playbook being bumf; bits and pieces of Angela Carter’s novel were there to foreshadow a scenario I wasn’t running. David said the Symbolic (suits/challenges) and the Imaginary (scenes/hallucinations) morphed into one another. Again, spot on. I found I was getting in the way by trying to shoehorn game systems into the flow of the narrative, so I backed off and let the cards dictate play.

Anita agreed that the group’s concentration on the Imaginary element of the game was due to their being story-gamers; she’d held the game together really, and without her it would likely have flown off in all directions. A game running for a group of more traditional roleplayers might focus more on the Symbolic – contests, challenges and trump suits. I quite like a bit of argy-bargy myself but for some reason I prefer losing to winning. (Paging Dr Freud!)

Running my own game is new to me. I’ve found story-gamers, and the people at Indiemeet in particular, to be extremely supportive. Maybe it’s the collective way they form their narratives; maybe they’re blessed by generosity of spirit.

Two other games were playtested at the Playstorm I attended – ‘Truth and Lies’ (Stephanie Jackson), which, unfortunately, I didn’t get to play, and a game by David Morrison in which one person played the inspector, or magistrate, and the rest suspects giving evidence in a crime. After each question & response, the questioner chose one thing that was true about the deposition given by each player, and one thing that was false. The more we went round the table the more we couldn’t stop laughing: a lot of fun.

A theme had developed over the course of the Playstorm – one about the power and paucity of human perceptions. You might say the same about roleplaying in general.

I’m not sure what’s next for Infernal Desire Machines. There are several possibilities:-

a) Run the game again at a future Indiemeet.
b) Run the game for a more traditional group of roleplayers, with a view to sharpening up the game systems.
c) Divorce the game from Angela Carter’s novel and apply it to new stories and settings, such as Ubik by Philip K Dick.
d) Divorce the game from any kind of setting and use it as a parachute system in narratives that require players to hallucinate.
e) Increase the dosage.

Infernal Desire Machines Playbook PDF 1